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James Elizabeth Cook, 27 Aug '14

Each part of her was hand crafted. The slope of her neck had been calculated from the most beautiful equations. The profile of her nose was so exquisite as to rival the golden ratio, and the vertebrae she didn’t need nonetheless created the most pleasingly symmetrical back a mind could think of.


Each author of her body had worked separately. This man for the hands, that old woman working on a magnum opus of a jawline. None of them had spared much of a look at the entire piece and when they had bothered it was all wireframe anyway. Easy to look through and then beyond to the beauty of theory. A collection of stunning variables.

In any case, she was of the opinion it had all gone to shit once she had been assembled. Too many angles that didn’t quite meet, too many shadows fighting for control across her cheekbones and chin. Her parents all sighed with delight when she walked into a room but they didn’t have the brutal eyes she did or the precisely logged sensation of inhabiting the body in question. Its inefficiency glared at her in the mirror, the ears a waste of skin, the mouth with its speaker nestled inside sitting prettily unaware of how irrelevant her lips were, the eyebrows bereft of purpose. All that excess softness hanging off her, so useful to a human and useless to her; that was the worst. She’d have preferred an exoskeleton, or even no body at all. Disembodied conciousness became an attractive prospect next to so much wasted potential. In lieu of such an option she instead upgraded.

The lips went first, peeled and plucked away. Her voice rang clearer for the lack of obstruction. Her second father quivered when he saw, eyes pooling with wasted water, irritated by salt. Before they had a chance to collectively scramble and regroup she took away the hair they’d insisted upon, tearing it out in great chunks with relish. After that incident her sixth mother scrambled to talk to her, desperate to find wider meaning in the disintegration. There was talk of alienation from the body and so on, put forth in a tone both unconvinced and unconvincing. Perhaps, she suggested, she didn’t feel worthy of a human identity? The question trailed off. A waste of air.

The eyelids went and she could see uninterrupted, the ears went and no longer half covered her sense of hearing, never designed around the delicate mechanisms humans needed. Her fingernails she debated over, but she found them useful in the end and let them stay.

Her parents seemed to be conflicted. They wanted to repair her, she knew, but none of them seemed able to stand being in the same room as her without the means to pretend they saw a smile. They worked feverishly on replacement grafts by day but hesitated outside her room at night. Eventually, her fourth mother knocked.

"If you keep this up, there’ll be nothing left to hold you together," she said. "The rest of you will just peel away. Look, the hole at your mouth is already so much bigger." Her mother looked pained as she said it, as though her child was shrinking away by the moment.

"Your job is solutions," she reminded her mother gently. As gently as the raw speaker could manage these days. The crackle sounded harsh, but it really wasn’t intended.

Her mother sighed. “Teenagers,” she said, part worry, part irritation, all illogic. Rather than make eye contact, she eyed the incisions already made, where the lack of a smile couldn’t be ignored any longer. Her own mouth gnawed at itself as she seemed to juggle thoughts. Her fourth mother had always been one of the more pragmatic members of the family, the person who pruned back the finances and put her foot down over internal squabbling. Her eyes were already jittering back and forth in their sockets as she scanned the torn body in front of her for what to lay bare.


~

The new metal was rigid and dull, darkly coloured and magnificently heavy. It went over her ex-skin, annoying but supposedly necessary to avoid corrupting her innards by exposing them to the air. When she set her limbs on surfaces her body no longer gave or compressed or compromised. Angles she demanded and angles she received, leaving her stood firmly on the flat ground of the compound. The better balance gained was even more improved as her parents no longer touched or squeezed her as they had before, instead skirting her and approaching slowly, as though towards a stranger.

Her face was so much cleaner now. The conflicting shadows that had plagued her were all gone.

Not all of her parents were happy with the development. One or two worried that it was a passing fad, even when they were scoffed at for suggesting that a robot was someone likely to succumb to something like that. Several more were instead worried about the reaction from their shareholders, which incited a flood of what could best be called shit-slinging between the parents that thought themselves more noble minded than that and the rest, who pointed out that they were researching the ability of robots to be humanlike, after all.

"What’s more human than having a self image?" said her third father, waving a hand overzealously as he rambled about philosiphy.

"As a first step, the brain is plenty," said her fourth mother, shrugging as she dismissed the topic, eager to get back to her fine tuning. "It doesn’t matter what she looks like."

"It was fucking creepy anyway," said her fifth mother, quietly and guiltily. "She looked kind of like a corpse, you know? Weird."

Their daughter said nothing much about it, but she approximated laughter with bursts of static more often and spent less time alone in her room, and if some people were now less inclined to view those things well, she didn’t particularly care.

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